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First assignment to characterize Jess February 25, 2007

Posted by resel in Jess.
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Probably the most unlikeable and in that way most complicated character of Nick Hornby’s novel: A long way down. Jess is eighteen years old and apparently naive and so are her reasons to commit suicide: Her not very brainy boyfriend Chas left her without any explanation, which Jess thinks she is owed. In one part of the book, she describes what this unrequited love makes her feel in an unexpectedly emotional and poignant way – only one paragraph that tells you that you need to have a closer look at this person to understand her.

Jess uses rude language to express herself and hates the fact that Martin’s vocabulary includes more than just the four-letter-word. She prefers the easy and straightforward mode – a mode that the other characters of the book have to learn to cope with. That is why – especially at the beginning – many conflicts break out. With Martin in particular. He seems to be exactly that kind of person she does not like: Educated, (partly) distinguished and rather arrogant. Features that obviously refer to her father, with whom she has got serious problems as well, as the reader finds out later on.
In general, arguments are what Jess is used to:”People do get sick of me, I’ve noticed.” This quotation definitely asks for analysis: Throughout the novel she consults her relationships to others again and again, tries to find out why most of them ended up being a total disaster and finally states that probably she herself is the reason. You can take that as a proof of her longing for stability within her interpersonal relations: She lost many friends before (“I make friends easily enough, but then I piss them off […]”), her sister Jen, who obviously means very much to her, and eventually Chas. Her parents and also others do not understand the way she is and feels and are not capable of respecting her foibles. In the end you see that the actual reason for Jess’ intent to jump off a tower block is not really Chas but her loneliness and innermost conflict with herself. Chas represented rather a transition that helped her find out the following: “[…] Something had happened to [Martin, JJ, Maureen and me], which seperated us from lots of other people. […] The Chas I knew was now on a different planet.” Unexpectedly, Jess found somebody she can identify with, people as desperate as she is, although the differences between them are tremendous. Clearly, one of the reasons for her to change her mind on suicide. Martin, JJ and Maureen are the first people in her life who wouldn’t let her down or leave alone although they got to know her. They find a way to handle her, to “stop” her – once that she is angry, for example – because, in her words: “I need stopping a lot.”
Therefore it is not surprising that the four of them – the way she sees it – form a gang. She even compares themselves with the Beatles, which you probably understand when you include the given thoughts. But not only that she feels extremely connected with the other ones, she also believes in improvement – even though her present situation is quite solemn. It is her suggestion to “give it another six weeks.” So clearly, she must be a very optimistic person too. Now that she met the others she feels like she could move on with her life. And the initial antipathy towards her in terms of egotism contradicts the hidden sympathy, that is easily missunderstood because of her way of expression, as already mentioned.
Hornby must have been spending a good deal of time thinking about this character: a conflicting person, indeed, whose actual feeling and intents are deliberately masked – above all by language. Only those few little paragraphs point out the complexity and peculiarity of Jess.

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1. vt - February 21, 2008

Dear resel,
I generally did like the characterization you wrote on Jess. The language is from my point really good for an eleventh grade student and compared to the other characterizations on the page it is a rather comprehensive essay.
I especially like that you came the conclusion that she doesn’t like Martin because he has so many similarities to her father (“With Martin in particular. He seems to be exactly that kind of person she does not like: Educated, (partly) distinguished and rather arrogant. Features that obviously refer to her father, with whom she has got serious problems as well“). Although there are many good conclusions you have drawn from the book I can’t agree on the assumption that Jess is the most complicated character in the book. It is a good hypothesis but there are certain aspects that don’t fit. For example Jess’ way of talking is so easy to understand and therefore the probability to misinterpret what she says “tends to zero“. Her straightforward manner also makes it easier to understand her. Hence she is rather the simplest character of the novel.
Although there are minor grammatical errors which don’t interfere at the comprehensive level and the structural composition could be clearer I think it is a good characterization of Jess that is rich in detail.
Yours sincerely
vt


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